Australian Antarctic scientists are now a step closer to having air access to the ice. Following assessment of several industry proposals, a Sydney-based company, SkyTraders has been selected as the preferred supplier. Further work with the Australian Antarctic Division will now be undertaken to see how the service can best be provided and funded before final approval from the Australian Government is sought.
An airlink would give Australia’s Antarctic research program much more flexibility. Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Antarctic, Dr Sharman Stone commented: ‘This is an important development which will significantly reduce travelling times for scientists and improve Australia’s capacity to support research in remote areas'.
The SkyTraders proposal is for a 16-passenger jet operating between Hobart and a hard glacier ice runway near Casey station. The Falcon jet can fly non-stop from Hobart to Casey and return. This avoids the need for refuelling in Antarctica, minimising the risk of fuel spills and the need to transport and store aircraft fuel in Antarctica.
This air service would also increase safety for passengers, with only a six-hour weather window for each flight. If there is any significant weather change during flight, the aircraft could return to Australia.
Subject to adequate financing and environmental approvals and a decision to proceed, airfield construction for the air service could start next summer, with the first flights beginning in the 2003–2004 summer. The Falcon intercontinental service would aim to provide 25 flights to Casey during each summer season. Personnel bound for other Antarctic destinations would change at Casey, to a ski-equipped, CASA 212 aircraft for flights to Davis, Mawson or remote field locations.
The next stage of the air service project development will also involve identification of other potential users of the service.